State's handling of security around drug smuggling 'highly unusual', says Berry

State's Handling Of Security Around Drug Smuggling 'Highly Unusual', Says Berry
Dr Cathal Berry said a multi-agency operation on Tuesday, during which a large quantity of drugs were discovered on a ship off the south coast, had been of international significance. Photo: Defence Forces
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Vivienne Clarke

The way in which Ireland is handling security around drugs smuggling is "highly, highly unusual," former Army Ranger and Kildare TD Dr Cathal Berry has warned.

Most international observers would be horrified by how Ireland does its business, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.


Dr Berry's comments come after a multi-agency operation on Tuesday resulted in a "significant quantity" of drugs being seized after Army Range Wing personnel boarded the MV Matthew off the south coast.

There was "a direct correlation between what's happening in O’Connell Stree [in Dublin] right now and what's happening on our territorial waters and on the high seas as well," he said.

"The drugs are coming in from somewhere, they might come in on the wind and they are coming in on the sea, and the big problem in Ireland is we do actually have the hardware.

"We have eight naval vessels in Cork Harbour, but unfortunately, incredibly, we only have crew for two, so that's about €300 million worth of State vessels tied up and lying idle in Cork Harbour."

Dr Berry pointed out there is also an issue with semi-submersibles, the so-called 'narco subs' which had been found off the coast of Portugal and Spain. These vessels had not been detected in Ireland, he said, pointing out that a reason for this may be because Irish naval vessels do not have sonar, which he described as "incredible".


The successful operation by the Defence Forces on Tuesday had been "well within the comfort zone" of the Army Ranger wing, Dr Berry added.

"These guys are so well trained and have such expertise that they're very comfortable with uncertainty, and if you saw the footage yesterday, I mean, it's not just a heaving deck that they were fast dropping onto, but you can see that the crew were aggressively manoeuvring the vessel as well, just to make it as complex as possible.

"But that would have been easily anticipated and the Rangers wouldn't be deterred by something as small as that," he explained.

The Ranger wing was the only outfit in the State with the expertise to carry out a mission like that on Tuesday, he said, adding its success was an important signal.


Dr Berry said the operation had been of international significance, adding: "It wouldn't have gone unnoticed in South America and Latin America as well.

"The cartels would see this and modify their approach to Ireland, but it won't stop them because it's well known at this stage that Irish territorial waters are notoriously unprotected. They just tweaked their procedures, but they'll continue as before."


Retired naval commander Eugene Ryan echoed Dr Berry's thoughts on the need for the Navy to have sonar capabilities.

Also speaking to Morning Ireland, Mr Ryan said it was necessary not alone to combat drug smuggling, but to inspect vital TransAtlantic cables.


He pointed out that when he joined the Navy as a cadet in 1972, there were approximately 350 personnel and 32 officers.

"When I retired 40 years later, the strength was 1,200 [across] all ranks and eight operational ships.

"In my 11 years of retirement I have seen the Navy being decimated to approximately 700 personnel and two operational ships, despite the Navy's fleet being the newest and best equipped we've ever had.

"Hundreds of millions of taxpayers money is lying alongside, not being used due to personnel shortages."

Mr Ryan said he had great admiration for the people still serving, but said the demands on the Navy were in excess of what they could do. The people still serving were not being paid the money they deserved, he added.

The Garda members involved in Tuesday's operation were on "multiples" of allowances compared to the navy personnel, Mr Ryan claimed, adding: "There's no excuse for this. We've got to pay our people if our naval service is to exist."

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